Health Ministry launches behaviour surveillance survey
Schoolchildren among groups to be targeted
Stabroek News
December 5, 2003

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The Ministry of Health yesterday launched a Behaviou-ral Surveillance Survey (BSS) which is expected to elicit more information on the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the potential for its spread through specific sexual behaviour.

The BSS will target schoolchildren, males who have sex with males (MSMs), commercial sex workers (CSW) and members of the disciplined services.

Making the announcement yesterday, Minister of Health Dr Leslie Ramsammy said that because sexual behaviours may change, they must be measured through repeated, targeted cross-sectional surveys. He said that the BSS will use the system developed by Family Health Interna-tional (FHI) and which is extensively used in developing countries such as Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The survey, which begins today, is funded by a US$200,000 grant from USAID and it is expected that it will be repeated every two years.

Ramsammy said that 20 competent, well-trained young people will conduct the survey. They will be supervised by the Guyana Respon-sible Parenthood Association (GRPA). According to the minister the interviewers were trained and their level of competence was tested and evaluated. He said that from this survey, for the first time, his ministry and other key players would have comprehensive standardised data.

Initially, the survey will be conducted in Regions Ten, Six and Four and all interviewers will be provided with the necessary identification cards.

Dr Ramsammy said BSS measures the behaviours that put people at risk for becoming infected with and spreading HIV, as well as their HIV related knowledge and attitudes. "The surveys are conducted systematically using standardized indicators, so results from subsequent rounds can be compared to examine trends. The target groups to be studied vary according to the characteristics of a particular epidemic and HIV prevention efforts that are either underway or planned," the minister said.

One of the major objectives of BSS is to help establish a monitoring system that will track behavioural trend data for high-risk and vulnerable target groups that influence the epidemic in Guyana.

The minister noted that the epidemic in Guyana is considered to be a generalised epidemic with an estimated 3.5% to 5.5% of the general population infected and defined sub-populations consistently having HIV prevalence rates greater than 5%.

In the first year BSS will target male and female youths, who are between the ages of 15 and 19 who are still attending school and are not married. The focus will also be on male and female youths, who are between the ages of 19 and 24, not attending school, not married nor cohabitating and who live in urban centres.

In addition to the MSMs and CSWs focus will also be on policemen working and living in Georgetown and regional stations and military officers living and working in a base camp and interior camps. The target group also includes Guysuco employees based on a special request from the management of the company as a follow-up to its workplace policy on HIV//AIDS.

The information will be collected by means of standardised, pre-coded questionnaires.

Ramsammy said that the questionnaire will cover topics such as socio-demographic characteristics of the respondent; opinions and attitudes towards sexual behaviour; history of sexual behaviour; knowledge and use of condoms with different types of partners; knowledge about STDS, symptoms and STD treatment-seeking behaviour; knowledge, attitudes and opinions about HIV/AIDS; experience with people living with HIV/AIDS; alcohol and drug use, including intravenous medications; and exposure to interventions underway in Guyana.

Giving a background on the incidence of the epidemic in Guyana, the minister said that the Caribbean Epidemio-logy Centre (CAREC) estimated in 1997 that the overall prevalence of HIV in Guyana was approximately 3.5% - 5.5% as was listed above. "Our own surveillance data suggest a prevalence of 5 to 7%," the minister said, adding that surveillance data showed a progressive increase in the annual incidence of documented AIDS cases, from 263 in 1998 to 423 in 2002. He said that in part this is due to increased case detection.

He said that the largest number of cases occurred among persons within the 20 to 49-year-old age range, accounting for 75% of cases in 2002. Data for AIDS cases reported during 2002 showed that there were more males than females within all age groups except the 20 to 24 cohort. Reports of AIDS cases, the minister said, have been received from all regions of the country with Region Four having the highest rate of 144.8 per 10,000 population. The next highest is Region Ten, which includes Linden, with a rate of 86.6 per 10,000 population.

(Samantha Alleyne)